FAT-mass continues to increase in middle-age women but menopause isn’t to blame, according to new research from ANU.
“Older women can experience weight gain for many reasons. However, menopause is not one of them,” says Mr Ananthan Ambikairajah, from the Research School of Population Health.
But, he says post-menopausal women do have higher belly fat compared to pre-menopausal women, which could increase their risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.
“The advice is to watch your shape, as well as your weight,” he says.
The research has debunked the widespread myth that menopause causes weight gain – and it found that a weight redistribution occurs instead.
“This change in distribution of body weight happens post-menopause and there is an accumulation of visceral fat around the stomach,” Mr Ambikairajah says.
“This study found that total leg fat percentage decreased for women after menopause but trunk-fat percentage increased.”
He says high amounts of fat around the stomach are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
“Cardiovascular disease is often thought of as a male dominated disease but it is the leading cause of death in women worldwide,” he says.
“The results may help explain why pre-menopausal women have lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared with men of the same age, whereas, post-menopausal women have higher risk compared to men of the same age”.
The study looked at weight changes in over one million women using Body Mass Index and Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) – a technology to calculate body composition – to measure body fat percentage and found menopause had “no significant influence” over total weight gain.
“The accumulation of that central fat is unhealthy and could [also] be a risk factor for dementia,” Mr Ambikairajah says.
“There are more women with dementia than men but the reasons for that are under debate.”
The average age for menopause is 50-52 but women can also have it earlier or later in life.
“Menopause is a point in time when women stop having their period. After that women are post-menopausal,” Mr Ambikairajah says.
“Post-menopausal women’s oestrogen levels decline and we know oestrogen can protect women’s hearts and brains if used soon after menopause.”
Mr Ambikairajah says further research about the impacts of oestrogen and fat changes is required.
The study is to be published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.